Energy News Beat Publishers Note: Geopolitical Futures (GPF) is a valuable international resource. We highly recommend subscribing to GPF and taking a look at George Friedman’s world insights. In this article “Biden’s First Middle East Moves” George has several key points. The most critical is this is not the Middle East that Biden knew, and with the treaties currently in place, the United States has less influence.
Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden took two steps in the Middle East. The first was that he notified Congress of his intention to remove the Houthis fighting in Yemen from the government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The second was that he said the U.S. would end its support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen and would review its relationship with Saudi Arabia over concerns about that country’s human rights record. In and of themselves, these two actions have little meaning. Viewed together, they may represent a radical shift in U.S. Middle East policy. The question, of course, is how and even whether this shift will affect the reality of the region. As I have so often written, policy is the list of things we wish for. Geopolitical reality is what we get.
The Houthis are a major faction in what seems the eternal Yemeni civil war. They are aligned with Iran, facing off against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The war in Yemen has to a great extent morphed from a civil war into a war between other countries’ proxies. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been carrying out airstrikes and providing some support on the ground in the fight against the Houthis. Iran, on the other hand, has been providing missiles to the Houthis (or Houthi-appearing Iranian forces), which have been fired into Saudi Arabia.
Yemen is a strategic country. It can project force into Saudi Arabia and Oman, or allow more powerful allies to do so. More important, from Yemen’s location a hypothetical, stronger power could close the Bab el Mandeb strait, and in doing so close the Red Sea. Access to the Red Sea is vital: In 1967, Egypt closed the Tiran Straits, blocking Israel from the Red Sea and triggering the Six-Day War.
Yemen is in no position to block the straits itself, but an outside party seeking to sow regional chaos might be. And if it did, it could draw Egypt, Israel and Ethiopia into a conflict they don’t want, and threaten Saudi Arabia and Oman, thereby weakening the Arab position in the Persian Gulf. …….
It is difficult to imagine that the Biden administration wants to be forced to deal with an Iran-dominated Yemen or an unstable Saudi Arabia. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine that the two recent gestures by the administration are more than just gestures. There is, of course, another possibility, which is that Biden somehow believes he can coax Iran into some benign relationship with the Sunni Arabs. Doing that by returning to the nuclear treaty as it was originally written might open the door to Iranian interest, but it would panic the rest of the region. This is a region where memories go back centuries, and where alliances, like the current anti-Iran one, are based not on affection but on cold calculation.
Iran is in a box, the rest of the region is in an unprecedented alignment, and as many in the administration learned in Libya, things can get much worse. From where I sit, the most important thing the U.S. learned is to avoid large-scale military involvement in the Middle East. Let Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the rest handle it, because they have no choice. It is their imperative and constraint. The key is to not rock the boat. The danger is that all new administrations want to make their mark. The good thing about this administration is that it remembers Libya, and its commitment to human rights there. The policy might seem virtuous, but the outcome may be far from the intention.
These two gestures are not actions, and it is hard to see where they can lead.
By: George Friedman –
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